I was moved to tears when, last weekend, mezzo-soprano Brittany Logan sang the sh*t out of my arrangement of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing!” She sang it during a choral concert presented by the Bob Cole University Choir and Chamber Choir called “We Can Mend the Sky: Choral Music for Social Justice.” Conducted by my former teacher Jonathan Talberg, the Chamber Choir did a splendid job of supporting Brittany as she wailed with depth and fervor and exquisite vocalism — the perfect voice for my piece. Brittany told me that for her, a young Black American female college student, singing THIS SONG with THIS CHOIR meant the world to her. Tears were streaming from both our eyes as I hugged and hugged her. It meant the world to me, too.
I attended Saturday night’s concert with added pep in my step over having been elected President of the George Robert Garner III Branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM) the week prior, on October 14. I am so proud to be connected with a centuries-old Black American musical legacy through NANM. And I am filled with honor, humility, and hope as I imagine how I might serve as one of the living links between NANM and music institutions and educators that are finding ways to not only “include” Black Americans, but to give Black Americans a safe space where they can lift their voices and truly be seen and heard in ways that validate their humanity without tokenizing their identity.
I know I’ve said this before: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a hymn that connects us to our roots, honors the present, and points toward the future. The poetry is epic and sophisticated. It speaks to our common struggle with brutality and injustice. And mostly, it speaks to the value of EVERY collective human voice that has ever been imprisoned, demoralized, persecuted, and/or murdered. Anyone and everyone can and should sing this song. But for me, and for many Black Americans, this song is our pride and joy. It means more than words can say for this song to be sung to life by our prestigious local music institutions, especially when Black Americans take the lead.
There are lots of great arrangements of “Lift Every Voice” out there. If you are a choral conductor, please consider performing mine. It is published by E.B. Marks Music and distributed by Hal Leonard. For details, go to to https://www.halleonard.com/product/viewproduct.action?itemid=139863.